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Mozambique: Militant Violence

Volume 811: debated on Wednesday 17 March 2021

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the increase of militant violence in the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique.

My Lords, the UK is deeply concerned by the deteriorating security situation in north-east Mozambique due to increasing attacks by groups with links to Islamic extremism. To date, the insurgency has claimed more than 2,000 lives and has displaced more than 670,000 people. The UK is supporting the Government of Mozambique to address the drivers of insecurity and has provided £90 million of humanitarian support to help those displaced by the conflict.

My Lords, given the obvious parallels with the long-standing violence in the Niger Delta associated with oil and gas production, what assessment have the Government made of the possible interrelationship between the discovery and exploitation of gas off Cabo Delgado and the subsequent explosion of extremist violence?

My Lords, we have worked closely with the Government of Mozambique to encourage a response to the insurgency that addresses its root causes. This includes ensuring that local populations in Cabo Delgado province can share in any economic benefits of development in the province.

My Lords, the World Food Programme has long warned that the violence is worsening food insecurity. The country representative said last week that it was important to join efforts now to protect food and nutrition security, as the livelihoods of the Mozambiquans have been impacted not only by the armed conflict but by Cyclone Kenneth and, of course, Covid. What steps is the United Kingdom taking to promote food and nutrition programmes in Mozambique?

The UK provides significant ODA to Mozambique, worth £179 million in 2019-20. This supports work in a number of different sectors, including health, education, water, sanitation, better governance and inclusive economic development. Revised allocations for next year will be published by the Treasury soon, but the ODA support that we provide to Mozambique is all about helping it to achieve sustainability across all sectors.

My Lords, Mozambique has a terrible history of conflict, but had pulled itself out of that. We played our part in that. The Integrated Review says that we will work together with others in Africa to build

“resilient and productive economies and open societies”.

Will the Minister guarantee that, in this circumstance, the FCDO will maintain the level of support? If not, how much aid will it cut from Mozambique?

My Lords, we are committed to supporting the Government and people of Mozambique to address, among other things, the conflict’s root causes. We do not see this as a purely military problem or an external problem. It is about marginalisation, poverty and the prospect of the arrival of massive gas income, which people worry they might not see. That concern has no doubt been exploited by Islamists. We are committed to continuing our work in Mozambique, tackling those root causes. I am not able to provide any figures yet in relation to the subsequent ODA allocations, but an answer will be forthcoming shortly.

My Lords, the Minister is precisely right that this is as much an economic problem as an aid problem, but the two are linked. Will he accept that an absolute and a relative reduction in our overseas aid budget will have a direct effect on our failure to deter insurgents from recruiting young, unemployed men in this province? That will have a direct, strategic impact on the political and economic stability of this Commonwealth country.

My Lords, as I said, the UK is working with the Mozambique Government to develop a coherent strategy on the conflict. That means addressing the root causes of conflict and extremism, creating economic opportunities and jobs for young people in Cabo Delgado and building community resilience to recruitment by extremist groups. On the broader issue of cuts to ODA, the UK economy is undergoing the worst contraction for three decades. Against that backdrop, we have had to make some hard choices, including temporarily reducing the ODA target from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI. Despite that, we remain a world-leading donor and will spend more than £10 billion of ODA this year. We will return to 0.7% when the fiscal situation allows.

My Lords, beyond the desperate situation internally in Mozambique, if insufficiently accountable leadership, social injustice and income disparities, compounded by isolated villages, are root causes of a problem that will likely increasingly threaten stability across the continent, what advice can be given or action taken to counter the resulting network of terror groups, which cross-reference on attrition, intimidation and provocation with the ultimate goal of forming multiple caliphates?

The noble Viscount makes an extremely important point. We understand—and our response reflects the understanding—that this problem in Mozambique is not a localised one, an external one or a military one; it has its roots in much broader concerns. Our support for Mozambique reflects that. The same is true, as the noble Viscount said, across the continent. That is why, as we develop the next round of programmes and a pipeline of projects through our ODA spending, we will focus increasingly on issues that pose long-term threats to stability in countries right across the continent, not least climate change and environmental degradation. This is very much at the heart of the approach that we are taking.

My Lords, the atrocities in Cabo Delgado are unforgettable, but so should be the underlying factors stoking the insurgency. Reference has been made to unemployment among the young, which means that many have joined the Islamic rebels with their promises to replace corrupt, elitist rule. Last year, a loan agreement including $1 billion from the UK was signed to fund a gigantic gas project, creating tens of thousands of jobs offshore, with hardly any—just 2,500—in Mozambique. Will the Government ensure that their export finance policies place emphasis on socioeconomic job creation as part of, to quote the Foreign Secretary,

“the road map … guided by our moral compass”?

On the project that the noble Lord refers to, UK Export Finance committed up to $1.15 billion to support the liquefied natural gas project in Mozambique. The project is designed to help Mozambique transition away from dirtier forms of fuel, such as coal, as well as to alleviate poverty. Since that decision was made by UKEF, the Prime Minister announced at the Climate Ambition Summit in December last year that the Government will end any new export support and overseas development assistance to overseas projects involving fossil fuels. We recognise that there is, without a doubt, a gas component—in particular the profits that will arise from this gas project—which is at least part of the problem that has erupted in the region.

My Lords, is not this an all-too-familiar cocktail of exploitation of rich natural resources, corruption, poverty, terrorism and, as we have been told in this case, barbarism? Will not the Government of Mozambique’s position inevitably be diminished if there is any cut in the aid that this country has previously offered to them?

My Lords, I am afraid that I am not able to shed any light on future programming, although I hope that I or my colleagues will be able to do so very soon. I have no doubt about the value of our ODA spending in the region and I believe that by sharpening our focus on some of the longer-term threats faced by the region—not least climate change, environmental degradation and exploitation of the rich resources that many countries have—we will have much better, bigger and more refined impacts than we have had in the past.

My Lords, to understand what is really happening on the ground in Cabo Delgado, we need the public scrutiny of military operations and alleged abuses that comes with unobstructed media freedom. What action have our Government taken on reports from UNOCHA and Human Rights Watch of documented incidents of the Mozambiquan security forces intimidating, detaining and prosecuting journalists? Can the Minister also say whether the BBC has full access to the conflict areas in Cabo Delgado?

My Lords, we are of course deeply concerned by numerous reports that we have received more recently and the horrific videos released in September showing alleged human rights abuses by the Mozambiquan security forces—really appalling scenes. We have urged the authorities to ensure that there is a full investigation to identify the perpetrators and to bring them to justice. The Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Africa have both publicly condemned the vicious attacks and will continue to raise this issue at every opportunity.

Sitting suspended.